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Ballet Talk for Dancers

As parents, when do we *push* our kids?


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My dd is 12 this year, and getting some interesting feedback from teachers. Depending on the teacher and what they prefer, she is either given a lot of favorable feedback (has potential, etc), or I get the feeling that she's not 'classical' enough. To be honest, I see my dd as a jazz/modern dancer, and she aspires to be on Broadway. The problem is that we are afraid of "Dolly Dinkle" schools, so we we stay at the pre-pro school where she has been for 7 years. I know that ballet is foundational, so I'm fine with her ballet training.


Here's my concern as a parent: She has flexibility issues, or non-flexibility issues. I don't mean to compare her to her class-mates, but she's really behind them in this area. This is the year that they really want to see her with full splits, and holding her foot out and up in second (she can't). Her tight IT band has landed us in the doc's office and PT. DD will do her PT exercises at home because I make her, but she won't stretch in any balletic form at home, even though three teachers have told her to.


At what point do parents step in and say, "Look kid. :) I know this is your dream, but I have spent so much money and so much time, that now you have kick in some extra effort, too." She'll take extra classes, etc, but nothing at home. Whenever I bring it up, she gets very defensive. I know this is a competitive activity and only more so from this age forward. I really think her flexibility would hold her back from her progression in the school. I think her complaint is that it hurts to stretch, but she's also a perfectionist and I know she doesn't like to do things that she doesn't do well.

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Laura, I'm not going to respond in terms of pushing from a parents standpoint, but, as a teacher I would have concerns about doing flexibility stretches at home if the child is not properly warmed up. And, I tend to doubt that most 12 year olds are going to give them themselves a proper warmup. They want instant gratification and will start out with splits. For a student with a lack of flexibility, this is definitely NOT the way to go!

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My dd is 12, and I find this is a very difficult age to tell her anything! :) I have definitely taken myself out of the dancing equation (other than as a chauffeur and checkbook). Whatever she does in regard to dance must be self-motivated. I have done this mostly to avoid seeming to always correct, push or criticize - because she seems to take everything as criticism. I also believe that if she wants to continue to dance, it must be at the pace and level she pursues on her own. For my dd, at 12, the hormones and desire to be socially active outside of dance have definitely increased. She surprised me by deciding to drop jazz and solely concentrate on ballet in order to give herself one free day a week. Although I miss seeing her participation in jazz, I made no comments and supported her decision. Every child is different, but for mine, I could see it was time to let her take charge of dance. I still push on school because that is not optional.

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Hi Laura:


My daughter is not the most flexible dancer either, and has been encouraged to stretch at home as well. As Ms. Leigh observed, most kids this age don't warm up sufficiently, so this makes stretching dangerous-my daughter is no exception. My daughter was stretching at home and pulled some muslce in her lower back/buttock area, and was out of dance for a week.


One idea may be to try and get her to the studio earlier, so she can properly warm up before her class, so when the real stretching part comes in class, her muscles will be ready for the stretch. I usually get my DD to the studio a bit early, in the hopes that she can have some additional warm up time. I think "stiff" kids can improve, but need a much longer warm up prior to trying thier splits, than their more flexible classmates. Also, the warm up provided in class can be really brief, so an extra warm up will only help. Also, if she warms up at the studio. there at least will be people around who can watch her and give her advice.


Also, as per cbcnc2, I can't tell my daughter anything either! When did I get so stupid?

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Well, I completely agree about stretching at home. And I know that I have posted about her flexibility before. I'm just concerned that the teachers go on about it and really push the home stretching. It's hard to ignore that, especially when you have a kid that is 1)naturally stiff and 2)growing.


I have always let her be self-motivated and I'm the hands-off mom. Now I'm questioning that approach. I have a friend that is rather pushy with her dd and I cringe sometimes. It's just not my type (I'd rather worry quietly, LOL!). Is there a balance between pushing a bit because you know your kids will do better in the long run? Or is this a matter of "someone else needs to be the outside motivator."


I get her to the studio earlier, but she just ends up socializing with her buddies. Of course, they are little rubber bands :) and hardly need to stretch before class. I think she's embarrassed to stretch in front of them. Otherwise, she loves to be there, and even took extra classes before she ended up with an overuse injury. :blink:


From a teacher's perspective, Mrs. Leigh, how do *you* perceive an inflexible 12yo student? Do you think they'll get it in time, or do you think they are reaching a point of unsuitability? I'm sorry if that really puts you on the spot, but it's been in the back of my mind every since that wacky ortho appt (another topic).

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Laura, I can't perceive any child without seeing them. There is simply no way to know if there is potential for a lot more flexibility or not without working with her. Also, keep in mind that often things change as the students mature physically, and there is no way of knowing what those changes will bring. Sometimes they are surprising and positive. :)

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I understand. Mrs. Leigh, and thank you for your response. Maybe *I'm* getting discouraged from the time spent at the studio and driving, the PT, plus the thousands and thousands of dollars through the years. Geez, sometimes *I* wonder if it's worth it. Dd, however, is not discouraged...I don't know if that's good or bad.

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I think that cbcnc2 is right and as others have reinforced, there is only so much you can say before you then receive an emotional response. I think that it is a matter of blending a bit of expectation regarding following through with commitments with encouraging their direct communication with their teacher(s), and additionally fostering natural development by being understanding about their increased need for autonomy. We have to pay a lot of attention to OUR responses so that they can see that we are supporting them but we are also allowing them to grow up (which includes taking responsibility for commitments).


As far as home stretching routines, I used to be more concerned about this than I am now because, like you LauraR, my DD is growing very rapidly at this point. I think that she is more likely to hurt herself now if she tries to do something unguided, and where I was never a dancer I do not feel that I can properly advise her.


When my DD was returning from a significant injury last year we took the opportunity to talk to the physiotherapist about stretching. She showed my daughter a pilates routine which could be safely followed up by some gentle stretching, but it was advised specific to her injury and my daughter was given printed illustrations to follow at home. Perhaps your daughter's PT may be able to do the same while she is dealing with her IT band issues.

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A great book on the "when to push" issue is Jim Taylor's "Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child". It helps parents separate their own issues from those of their children, and it normalizes the sometimes painful feelings that occur in negotiating this process. I highly recommend it.


I do empathize with you. When we invest so much of our time and money in helping our children reach their dreams, it can be tough to separate ourselves from them. It's also easy to burn out and start to feel overwhelmed by the constant sacrifices we are making. When I feel the burn out happening, I try and do something for myself. Even something as simple as relaxing at a coffee shop instead of running errands while my daughter is at ballet class can do wonders to rejuvenate myself. I guess what I'm saying is to take care of yourself, as well as your daughter. Sometimes we parents forget that we have needs too, in our constant caring for our kids!

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Yes, yankee, the PT has a printed sheet of specific exercises and stretches she is to do for her IT band. Some include quads and hamstrings. I can enforce those and she does them after her regular exercises, so she is warmed up. I can also throw in cardio/PE because I'm homeschooling and I can enforce the teacher aspect! She has to keep up those types of exercises and stretches just to maintain health and good knees. But I think I'll keep the dance mom separate and just continue to drive and write checks. The rest has got to be up to her.


I'm proud of the discipline and motivation she has developed with ballet. Maybe parent observation week isn't all it's cracked up to be. ;)

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My daughter went through her puberty "streak" extremely early at age 9. Unlike her classmates - my daughter couldn't get the splits or put her leg up high like the rest of the class. She also had problems with her IT band and she went through 3 months of physical therapy. She went through a whole school year and a summer intensive with these flexibility issues and it was difficult for her. But she did work extra at the studio and at home (after a warm up) very carefully and at age 10 her flexibility greatly improved. Now at age 11 she is one of the most flexible dancers in her classes and she kept up with the best of them at her summer intensive this past summer. I would like to add that the exercises and stretches she did at home were approved by the physical therapist. I just wanted to share my dd's flexibility success story! :)

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my daughter has to do her stretching during the summerbreak of rg to maintain her flexibility as wel.

I must say for us it's a little bit easier because my husband is a sports physician,but still we asked her coach to show us exactely what she had to do and how it had to be done,and she never was allowed to do it unsupervised by either my husband or me.

Maybe you can ask her teacher to show you what she has to do at home,so if she wants to do it,you can at least be sure she does it right.

But I didn't push my daughter to do her exercises,if she didn't feel like doing it,I just told her training was going to be a lot harder the first few weeks if she didn't keep up her flexibility,but it was up to her to choose if she wanted to do them or not.

I don't think pushing them will get them any further or make them any better.I think it just makes them feel guilty because you invest so much time and money in them,and maybe it will make them keep dancing a little longer to please you,but they won't enjoy it.

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I think Heleen has some very wise words. I don't know that I have seen great things happen when parents are the ones doing the pushing, although in fairness I also believe that this is something most parents learn over time: it is not a terribly easy thing for us.


When my younger dd was 11, the school expected her to "ready" herself before class (that is, warm up): I don't think she ever did. She didn't think she needed to. It took some time for her to recognize the importance of this, and as she grew she sometimes was frustrated with a relative lack of flexibility. For the most part it "came back," but like most kids she will never again be the gumby she was at age 5.


We worry a lot about our kids I think - that is how moms are wired! However, there is only so much we can do. If I could "do over" I would not have worried so much about ballet related issues when my kids were 12 - to a certain extent (see? still not ready to give up my worry-wart status)




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Yes, I have seen parents who push and I have seen their kids who dance only to make them happy. I really don't want to be one of those parents. I guess the balance I'm trying to find is akin to students with homework. You don't nag at them and push them at every assignment, expecting them all to be Ivy League candidates, yet you expect them to hold to their end of the commitment and do their homework.


If this is a reputable school, and the family is making sacrifices for her to go, as a parent, do I have a reasonable expectation for her to stretch daily, doing the exercises the teachers have been telling her to do at home? One teacher, the AD, tells dd in class that she needs to sit in a stretched position while doing homework, while watching TV, whatever she'd doing. He later told me that he's afraid her flexibility will hold her back.


She did start puberty early and she's the bunchy muscular kind of girl. They have been really harping on her flexibility for the past two years. If the school is so concerned about it, it's really hard for me not to be. Am I really supposed to just stay out of it?


How exactly are the girls supposed to warm up for class outside of the studio? What would that entail? At our school, the classes run together and there is no empty studio space. Generally, the girls wait in the halls for classes to start.

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Hi Laura:


It does seem as though your DD's teachers are really stressing the issue of flexibility, so I can see why you are concerned.


One suggestion is that you have your daughter work with a personal trainer, focusing on increasing flexibility. Perhaps a local yoga instructor who wants to make a little extra money would be available. Then, your DD would not have to stretch alone (a real bore!) and she would be supervised and really shown how to stretch properly. While ballet instructors really know their dance, sometimes, I think they are not the best able to show kids how to stretch properly.


I know that spending more money seems silly, after all you have done, but maybe 2 or 3 sessions a week for a month or two would be all your DD needs to gain more flexibility. Then, she may be willing to do the stretches on her own, once she has made enough progress not to feel pain when she stretches.


Good luck-

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